This Thursday at 5:00am (local time), Portugal and Wales go head-to-head for place in the final – not the most likely of finalists at the beginning of the tournament however it must be said that Wales have impressed the world with their ability to absorb pressure and break at pace, while Portugal’s refusal to even attempt to play any form of proactive football has seen them come this far without winning a single match in 90 minutes - it has proved effective mind you; who could disagree?
Assessing each side’s star man, it’s no secret that Gareth Bale has clearly outshone his Galactico colleague. Ronaldo was said to have silenced his critics after a brace against Hungary. But then again it was Hungary, their keeper does wear trackpants and he took 30 shots in 3 games in the lead up to it – to put that into perspective there were 8 teams that had taken less shots than he alone. Conversely, Bale had taken 17 shots at that same time, but he also lead the competition in taking on opponents, successfully blazing past 13 of them (Ronaldo managed only 3). Portugal’s inspiration is most likely to come from Renato Sanches, whose performances so far has justified Bayern’s €35 million splurge on the 18-year-old (potential €80m depending on objectives).
Bale’s performances as mentioned above must be like looking back in time for Ronaldo, back to when he was an out-and-out flamboyant winger beating his opponents at will causing all sorts of havoc. However today and with his age, his physique whilst still admirable has morphed into something closer resembling a traditional number 9. Say what you want about the man, but there is no denying that he is a cool finisher and a weapon in the air – these without question are now his best attributes and it shows in this very tournament. His only praise so far has come for his performances against Hungary where he was delivered two crosses into the area netting a brace. The question remains; why is he so desperately opposed to taking up that role? One could argue is that it because he will see far less of the ball. He has had an amazing career but that should hide the fact that he craves the spotlight. Would he have taken 30 shots on goal if he were playing centre forward? Surely not.
Whilst it is being billed as Bale v Ronaldo, for fans of each side it well be a tense and gripping affair, but for the neutrals we warn you not expect a classic.
From what we’ve learned from matches leading up to this is that it’s going to be frustrating viewing watching Wales try to break down this cautious and unimaginative Portugal side but to be fair, we wouldn’t hold it against them for utilizing this approach against a pacey Welsh side. Just like Italy’s, their 3-5-2 limits the effectiveness of the opposition’s wingers and cuts central passing lanes. Whilst not as organized as the Azzurri, the Welsh Dragons only need 2-3 players to break forward in order to score. We feel we can comfortably disregard any prospect of an end-to-end contest breaking out – I can categorically state that the likelihood of both teams getting on the scoreboard is slim-to-nil. With that being said, I can only envision the deadlock being broken via means of a set-piece – for the punter you will surely have your money on Ronaldo to open the scoring and Portugal running out victors, or a Wales victory with Ashley Williams scoring first – the latter is paying $66 at Bet365.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.